fly in the ointment


fly in the ointment


  • something that spoils a pleasant or enjoyable experience.
  • blemish or imperfection that mars an otherwise flawless product or idea.
  • problem or dissatisfying element that spoils an otherwise promising situation.
  • mistake or mishap that interferes with progress or success.
  • distracting or irritating detail that makes it difficult to focus on the whole.
  • something unpleasing that stands out and taints an otherwise positive experience.
  • unwanted element that prevents perfection or obscures pure joy.

Example Sentences

  1. The fly in the ointment was that the proposal still needed board approval.
  2. There was just one fly in the ointment: filling the key management position.
  3. The agreement had a fly in the ointment relating to intellectual property rights.
  4. The strike was going smoothly until the fly in the ointment emerged – wage disputes with some union members.
  5. The vacation was wonderful except for one fly in the ointment: the resort had run out of our favorite drink.
  6. The fly in the ointment was that they had failed to consider regulatory requirements.
  7. Politics as usual had thrown a fly in the ointment by blocking progress on the reforms.
  8. High costs were the only fly in the ointment for the otherwise promising new technology.


The idiom ‘fly in the ointment’ originated from Ecclesiastes 10:1 in the Bible, which states”

“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor. “

Over time, this metaphor evolved into the common phrase used today to refer to something that spoils or interferes with an otherwise good or pleasant situation.

The original meaning was quite literal – the presence of dead flies ruined the perfume or ointment, imparting a foul odor. But as the idiom spread, it took on a more figurative sense.

A “fly in the ointment” meant any minor annoyance, flaw, or inconvenience that prevents something from being completely perfect, delightful, or satisfactory.

Like many idioms, “fly in the ointment” provides a vivid image to convey an abstract concept or nuanced critique. It gives us a memorable phrase to describe how some small imperfection or irritation can mar an otherwise lovely experience or joyful occasion.

Idioms of this kind, rooted in historical references, proverbs, or metaphors, are a key part of what gives languages their color, richness, and cultural context.

The resilience of “fly in the ointment” shows how idioms can originate long ago but still thrive and remain relevant in usage today, even as their origins fade from memory. They become embedded in a language and feed into how we naturally describe everyday life using common expressions.

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